At least 70 people are jobless this holiday season after flames gutted six Queens businesses on Thursday. But after a "massive, immediate response" from the community, thousands of dollars have already been raised and businesses and employees are receiving support — and it’s only been four days.
The five-alarm blaze started shortly after 2 a.m. inside one of the restaurants on Queens Boulevard, near 45th Street, in Sunnyside. When firefighters arrived minutes after receiving a call, it had already spread to adjacent buildings, Assistant Chief Anthony De Vita said.
Seven firefighters and five civilians suffered minor injuries but six businesses — Sidetracks Restaurant & Bar, New York Style Eats, Better Line of Hardware, Zen Yai Noodle & Coffee, the UPS store and Romantic Depot — were destroyed.
Half of them (Sidetracks, New York Style Eats and Better Line of Hardware) had been around for decades and the lingerie store, Romantic Depot, had just opened at the end of October, according to Jaime-Faye Bean, the executive director of Sunnyside Shines, the community’s Business Improvement District.
"People are just getting hammered at both ends of the business life cycle," she told amNewYork on Monday. "It’s an unimaginable blow to see the place where you put all your savings, your heart, your soul and hours each day to go up in smoke."
With six businesses abruptly closing all at once, about 70 people are out of jobs at an already financially rough time — the holidays.
"You never know how many people are just a paycheck away from a personally disastrous time," Bean said. "A lot of people are hurting."
But the Sunnyside community wasted no time in mobilizing "a massive, immediate response," she said.
On Thursday evening, just hours after the businesses were lost to the flames, Sunnyside Shines set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of $100,000 to parse out cash to the affected business owners and their employees.
As of Tuesday morning, more than $78,000 had already been raised.
And the BID, dozens of businesses, community groups, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, and others held a relief fundraiser Monday night at Sunnyside Community Services.
Artisans from the Queens Night Market, which holds an outdoor holiday market in the plaza across from the block of businesses that burned down, sold their goods at the fundraiser and donated a percentage of their proceeds to the relief fund.
"Last weekend was our annual vendors’ party and it was at one of the bars that burned down three days later," John Wang, the founder of the Queens Night Market, said. "We are very invested in Sunnyside. It just made sense to help. I am amazed at how quickly everything mobilized. Everyone moved in tandem so fast. It’s a pretty amazing testament to how well-connected the local community is."
All the proceeds from the fundraisers will be given to the fire victims — Sunnyside Shines set up a separate relief fund account and will continue to update the community on contributions and dispersal, Bean said.
Money is also just one side of it. Sunnyside Shines also facilitated a resource fair Monday afternoon with potential employers who will take applications, and there will be people on hand to give resume and career support, Bean said.
As for the business owners, the NYC Department of Small Business Services is planning a recovery session that will connect them with agencies that can help them with utilities, pro bono legal support, low-interest loans and more, Bean added.
At least three of the owners are already looking at spaces within the neighborhood to reopen, she said.
"It’s incredible to imagine this has happened in four days," she said.